Lynton Cox’s “What the Dickens?” Part One

 

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells etc etc etc

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells etc etc etc

Well friends, it’s December so I suppose there’s no longer a reason for an old misanthrope like me to moan about Christmas decorations in the shops and seasonal stuff going on when it isn’t yet the season to be jolly. But hey, I can always moan about not being able to moan, even being a misery has its bright side! Day by day we can get jollier and jollier and spite miseries like me who continue their miserable shenanigans until such time, as like Gary Cooper, we get sent a wingless angel to show us the error of our ways having first rescued us kicking and screaming from a wintry river where we wanted to end it all.

Anyway my friends I have prepared for you a salutory seasonal tale that warns of the dangers to miseryguts like me and what might happen if we don’t mend our ways. I shall publish each installment in true Victorian magazine fashion, weekly, up to Christmas when the denouement will be published and by which time you will all be on the edges of your seats or have got bored and gone down the the pub . Amen to that!

Here is the first of several installments of:

What the Dickens?

Part1. In which we become acquainted with the parsimonious misanthropic Ebenezer Cox and his activities.

The sign over the door of the backroom of the shop says “Cox”. Well it actually says “Shuttlecock, Frimley and Cox”, but the other two names have been crossed out. Shuttlecock and Frimley were long years dead. That you have to understand, dear reader, for if disbelief you do not suspend, no wonderment can come of this tale.

Cox knew this fact as sure as he knew the tattoo on his left buttock said “I’m the funniest man on Earth” and the one on the right said “Rhetoric rules is that OK?” The one in the middle said “Bollocks” but that was more by way of a reminder than a pithy statement.

The register of their burials was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner, Cox himself, signed it too. Old Shuttlecock, old Frimley were as dead as door-nails. I will not query this simile for, dear reader, you would consider it an odd Victorian pedantry, fit only to be read in pompous tones by an ageing but venerable homosexual actor in the guise of an overly sanctimonious, bearded and coiffed literary “giant” and social reformer who needs to use verbiage and long words as sure as an ursine mammal requires to defaecate in a highly wooded area.

The shop window, grime-covered, allows in, grudgingly, what light is left of this three o’clock snow-rapt, frosty Christmas Eve and outside the gas lamps twinkle into existence as people wrapped against the icy air hurry about their business to carry joy, gifts and seasonal blessings to their friends and loved-ones; halloo-ing and hailing compliments to fellow city dwellers known and unknown with blythe looks of anticipation.

The shop is dark and cold and the cold seeps into each abode and workplace through every crack and crevice in wall, window and wretched damp floorboard. Perhaps this is not quite true for chez Shuttlecock, Frimley and Cox because the cobweb-draped gloom and dust-decrepit misery that pervades this place has a chill of its own that, whatever the temperature, defies nature by flowing; flowing out and polluting everything with its mean frigidity contrariwise to the laws of thermodynamics.

The doorway to the room is vaguely lit from within by the dim glow of candles and as one enters in, the glow of two glass screens makes silhouettes of two men and the only sound to be heard is the scuttle of mice among discarded bread crusts on the floor and the rapid tap tap tapping of long spindly fingers on two keyboards.

A voice is heard.

“Erm… Mr. Cox, Sir? I… I..”

It is the voice of Bob Shuttlecock, Cox’s clerk. A bright cheerful being who, out of grudging pity, Cox took on, contrary to his usual innate spite, since it was a condition of the last Will and Testament of his dead partner Obadiah Shuttlecock. He had been the lad’s ward and Great Uncle, having sheltered him and fed him and saved him from the workhouse after the death of his poor parents who had died during the “Great Stink” of ’31. Shuttlecock the elder and the previous clerk Martin Fuckwitt had met their end together whilst walking in the street when a passing Carpenter’s cart had shed its shed-load of prefabricated sheds upon their unwitting persons who then rather rapidly shed rather than, shuffled off, their mortal coils. Dead they were and so flat they could have posted them to the mortuary for the price of a penny black rather than the exhorbitant florin that shocked Cox who had to hand it over to the undertaker.

“Out with it Shuttlecock! I know! I suppose you’ll be wanting Christmas day off as usual this year. Can’t think what Shuttlecock and Frimley were doing letting clerks have it off in the first place! But I shall expect you in at five the next morning! You can have it off, Shuttlecock , as no doubt you do, frequently, with all those sprogs of yours, but you know the terms, five o’clock! Right? Go on say it! SAY IT!!”

This same scene was played out year on year as Shuttlecock stood head bowed

“Go on Shuttlecock I want to HEAR it!”

A mumbled response

Louder! LOUDER man!

“Five o’clock, Sir, on the dot sir, thank you Sir you are kind and generous to a fault Mr. Cox Sir.”

“Christmas? Humbug! You won’t catch any of the writers or my Facebook friends taking a day off from Facebook, sad bunch of bastards! Oh no! He he he he!”

The frosty rime of this cold cold place was on Cox’s head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He exuded his own low temperature; and with it he iced his office in the summer; and didn’t thaw it one degree at the depth of the Winter Solstice, making no exception for Christmas. Even the candle flames shrunk at his approach.

Cox glanced at the clock on his computer screen, it was ten past three. He glanced at the dull window. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: there was fog on the Essex marshes too, but that was a bleaker story still. He could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. But what did Cox care? It was the very thing he liked! Fog, cold fog. To edge his way along the foggy crowded perimeter paths of life, warning all human sympathy and frailty to keep its distance. Telling everyone how ridiculous they are and calling people names and spreading vile invective and untruths, being steeped in the misery of the World and its vile people and events, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Cox; as were the consequences and responsibilities.

“A merry Christmas, brother! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Cox’s brother Augustus, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Cox, “Humbug!”

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this brother of Cox’s, that he was all in a glow and steaming; his face was ruddy and handsome; his blue eyes sparkled like icicles, and his breath smoked again as he spoke.

“Christmas a humbug,?” said Cox’s brother. “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”

“I do,” said Cox. “Merry Christmas! What RIGHT have you to be merry? What REASON have you to be merry? You’re poor enough. Look at all the misery in the World! All those people on Facebook, bowling along pretending life is good, sticking up pictures of every nook and cranny of their boring private lives to human view, oblivious of the realities of the doom about to fall upon them all.”

“Come, then,” returned the brother gaily. “What right have YOU to be dismal? what reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

Cox, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with: “Humbug.”

“Don’t be cross, brother,” said Augustus.

“What else can I be,” returned Ebenezer Cox, “when I live in such a world of fools as this Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas. What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Cox indignantly, “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. They deserve it! They can see what’s going on in the world, they don’t care about it and can’t think further than the next episode of the latest bloody soap opera on telly. Bollocks to them all, they don’t deserve saving, nor peace nor goodwill none of ’em!”

“Ebenezer!” pleaded the brother.

“Brother” returned Cox, sternly, “Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it!” repeated Augustus. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Cox. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you! Much good has it done anyone!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, and there are many ills in the World about which I may not continuously give thought nor cogitate upon the morality thereof” returned Augustus: “ But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys and out to wreak evil. And therefore, Ebenezer, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket on Black Friday or any other day, I believe that it HAS done me good, and WILL do me and others good; and I say, God bless it!”

Shuttlecock who had all this time been steadfastly tapping his keyboard, revolved around in his seat and involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he pretended to fiddle around with his mouse and erased a whole hour’s work with one click.

“Let me hear another sound from YOU,” said Ebenezer Cox, “and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation. Testament or no bloody Testament!”

“You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir like many of those misguided souls that haunt Facebook,” he added, turning to his brother. “I wonder you don’t go into Parliament with the rest of the moronic bunch of ’em.”

“Don’t be angry, brother. Come! Dine with us tomorrow.”

Cox said that he would see him in….. – yes, indeed he did, loudly so. He went the whole length of the diabolical expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first.

“But why?” cried his brother. “Why?”
`
“Why did you get married?” said Cox.

“Because I fell in love and discovered that there was more to life than the Internet.”

“Because you fell in love!’” growled Cox, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a Merry Christmas. “Good afternoon!”

“Nay, Ebenezer, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?”

“Good afternoon,” said Cox.

“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends brother?”

“Good afternoon,” said Cox.

“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute brother Ebenezer. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So a Merry Christmas to you brother!”

“Good afternoon!” said Cox.

“And A Happy New Year!”

“Bollocks and now just fuck off!” said Cox.

His brother left the dingy room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greeting of the season on the clerk, who, cold as he was, was warmer than his employer; for he returned them cordially.

“There’s another fellow,” muttered Cox; who overheard him: “my clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas? Lunatic he is! I’ll retire to Bedlam.”

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

This ‘lunatic’, in letting Cox’s brother out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Cox’s office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

“Shuttlecock, Frimley and Cox, I believe”, said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list with his finger. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Cox, or Mr Shuttlecock or Mr. Frimley?”

“Er er…that depends”, said Cox, hesitating, “If it’s about copyright, it’s not me you want, I’m not responsible for those idiots who write comments on my page. Anyway if it is, you must be the only ones who read that rubbish because nobody else visits it and all the “friends” and “comments”are completely made up. That’s what Shuttlecock does all day.”

“No it’s for the poor people, the orphanage”, said the most rotund and rubicund of the three.

“Well in that case the three of you mendicants can bloody well fuck off and don’t let the door hit you in the arse as you go out. Go on sod off!”

Cox stamped back toward his desk, only stopping to squat and defaecate profusely into the small earth closet dug into the centre of the floor. “Humbug” he grumbled again. “Shuttlecock! Did you remember to put all the Christmas comments up and the links to Christmas films and stuff?”

“Yes sir”, came the reply

“Can’t have anyone enjoying things like Christmas can we Shuttlecock? Not when there’s so much misery in the world eh? They need reminding now and then! Nice people expecting to be confronted with a suicidal Gary Cooper and some fat wingless angel soaking wet by the side of a freezing river. Likewise, a happy family gathering, grandma, grandad, mum, dad, all the kids waiting for their annual dose of Christmas tear-jerking schmaltz. It’ll wake them up to see Tracy Lords stroking some great big cock all over the screen or to go to some page about human trafficking or female circumcision. Show the kids what their parents really get up to, what all those “noble savages” in far off lands are really doing to each other. Bloody hypocrites!”

His very words thickened the very fog and the darkness so, that people ran about with flaring torches, proffering their services to go before horseless carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slyly down at Cox out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, around which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture.

“Fuck the lot of them”, thought Cox. But for tap tap tapping, silence descended on the two men and the gloom and darkness closed in once more.

At length the hour of shutting up the shop arrived. With an ill-will Ebenezer dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk.

“Remember, Shuttlecock, five o’clock!” said Cox..

Cox too donned his coat, hat and cape, scarf and gloves and ignoring the cheery “Merry … er… sorry sir” as Shuttlecock skipped into the night, he snuffed the last candle, stepped out of the door and locked it behind him, before making his way to his usual tavern for a meagre dinner.

Cox was unaware because his back was turned but the water-plug being left in solitude in the horse trough, its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice which flowed and moulded itself, distorting into the glimmerings of words the glows and the twinkles of flares and braziers. The words read, Cha…. and were then swallowed by the fingers of threading fog.

To be continued…

With apologies to Charles Dickens

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